How to prevent the suicide of a friend

It’s awful to think about water war. So often, the loved ones of someone who committed suicide will say: “We never saw it coming!” It’s not their fault, either. We all miss the clues and warning signs of someone who struggles with suicidal thoughts: it can be easier than you think to hide feelings of depression, anxiety, fear and substance abuse, and those who suffer can often be too ashamed to talk about it.

So how can we be better prepared to help those in need? Here’s what to look out for:

Warning signs include:


A suicidal person will drop hints of killing himself, feeling like a burden to others, saying he has no reason to live and so on. This also includes the feeling of being trapped and dealing with unbearable pain. Even if these words scare you, don’t ignore them, or think that this person is just being dramatic. Rather have a discussion – ask questions, and listen with care. It’s best to talk about it, and get it out in the open.


  • Strange visits or calls to say goodbye
  • Little or no participation in activities
  • Increased alcohol intake
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Aggression
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Sleeping too much or too little


If someone is suicidal, they may show one of the following:

  • Depression
  • Rage
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Humiliation
  • Loss of interest

Research on Suicidal Behaviour from the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says that more than two-thirds of people who engage in suicidal behaviour communicate this within 3 months before the act. They also check with their doctor for treatment for psychological disorder (usually depression) at least two weeks before the act. These are important signs: so don’t ignore them!

Suicide risk factors

  • Mental health conditions that include: depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, substance abuse disorders and chronic health conditions or pain.
  • Environmental: Prolonged stressful factors, harassment, abuse, unemployment, relationship problems and bullying. Stressful life events like divorce, loss of job and death. The exposure to someone else’s suicide and lethal weapons can be triggering.
  • Historical: A family history of suicide attempts, previous suicide attempts and family history of child mistreatment.
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How to offer help and support

Be empathetic and lend an ear. Let them know that they’re not alone and that you care at all times.

  • Get professional help

Encourage your loved one to get the treatment they need. Look for referrals and the best care they can possibly get from a mental healthcare professional.

  • Follow up on their treatment

Monitor their prescribed medication and make sure they take it as instructed. It may take time to find meds that work for them, so be mindful of side-effects, and report back to the doctor.

  • Be proactive

Offering assistance may not be enough, so call and check up on them, invite them out and don’t wait for them to return or call you when they need anything. Be the first to take the initiative.

  • Encourage positive and healthy lifestyle changes

Exercising and eating well is important as it promotes emotional wellness. Encourage them to get enough sleep and take a short walk to get some air every day. Show up at their doorstep for a walk if you have to!

  • Make a safety plan

Develop a plan that your loved one must turn to when they feel suicidal. This will help point out factors that trigger suicidal thoughts. It will also help them to keep to a commitment of not harming themselves when they’re faced with a crisis. Include contact numbers in case of an emergency; their doctor or therapist too.

  • Remove harmful objects

Keep knives, razors, pills and firearms out of sight, especially if the person is likely to take an overdose. Give out only as much as the person needs. Keep medications locked away.

  • Continue to support them

Support is vital to ensure their recovery is on track. Stay in touch and check in on them even when the crisis has passed.s.